There is definitely something to be said for a band avoiding stagnation. Change is eternal and unavoidable, and to remain in place for an extended period has the potential to make for boring music without passion or excitement. On the other hand, with change comes risk, and metal is a notorious genre for having fans intolerant of change. Of course, you could always go the route of The Lion’s Daughter and completely stop giving a fuck about what people think, just do you, and make maybe the most drastic change imaginable, as perfected on their newest banger Skin Show.
St. Louis, MO’s The Lion’s Daughter began life as a blackened sludge outfit, definitely not your conventional sort of band, but not anything truly out there. However, beginning with 2018’s Future Cult, the trio took a completely new and wild direction, augmenting their sound with horror soundtrack inspired synths and a new, much more experimental sound. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and their bold gamble paid dividends and then some. Future Cult was a huge success, but even so, Skin Show sees the band continue to push the envelope instead of riding their success and taking it easy. “For this record, I wanted to stop playing it safe. I wanted to use more natural synth sounds and let things take on soft and somber tones at times, rather than just screaming alongside the guitars at all times,” says frontman and mastermind Rick Giordano. “This was our attempt at a straight-forward pop record. It, of course, all still came out fucked because it’s us creating it. But I tried to imagine our band playing a giant arena and what that would sound like. I wanted to strip away some of the chaos and just write stronger songs.” The end result is something that is much more refined than Future Cult. From a production standpoint, the organic sound of the synths helps them play a much more nuanced presence in the songs instead of taking over all the other elements. From a songwriting perspective, the pop elements are extremely present, especially in the drums, where a seething blast beat often melts away into something incredibly danceable. Still, as much as the pop elements help streamline the songs, they don’t detract from the overall grit. At their core, they are catchy, danceable and melodic, but their outsides are distressed, in the same way you would distress a chest of drawers by stripping it of all its gloss and paint and bashing it with a hammer repeatedly.
Horror is a prevailing influence on the band, and the attempt with Skin Show was to up the ante, especially with regards to the synthesizers, and have them truly help tell the ten stories here, as horrible and gruesome and disturbing as they might be. The blend of all the instruments is balanced and in harmony, and the slick production allows everything to shine, while not relying on tons of overdubs to saturate the sound. Compared to Future Cult, Skin Show feels almost stripped back, but it really helps the songs speak for themselves, both in the killer riffs and the memorable melodies, and it shows how much stronger the compositions are than they ever have been. The one-two combo of “Curtains” into “Neon Teeth” best exemplifies this, the former with its killer, whiplash-inducing riff and thrashy drums and the latter with more melodic guitar lines and dance beats coupled with a pulsing bassline. What ties them all together are the synths, not overshadowing anything, but providing the right amount of ambience and texture, as well as spooky, horror-movie-like lines and melodies, and the choruses that are catchy like the black plague. It really is the strongest the songwriting has ever been from the trio, and a lot of it has to do with the amount of restraint they show. Where they could absolutely go balls out, they instead hold back just enough to let the parts breathe before the big release. It’s all the sweeter when it hits, and it helps these songs stick in the brain like a parasite.
Skin Show strikes the same sort of notes for me as Tribulation’s January release Where the Gloom Becomes Sound, in the sense that it seamlessly blends dark, aggressive and brooding metal with delicate, upbeat and incredibly infectious pop sensibilities. It is a truly compelling listen, right at home at both an abandoned warehouse and a punk bar. Most importantly, this album shows a band that embraced change and went running with it, and at this point it seems that they have become masters of their craft. But that’s the funny thing about a band like The Lion’s Daughter: the next release from them could be something completely different. At this point, you should just trust them to do whatever they want. Chances are good it’s going to rule.